As a warm up for the next ‘Future of the British Army’ post in which FRES will of course feature this is a brief(ish) look at the rather shabby history of the omnishambles that is the Future Rapid Effects System (FRES)
Some of this content has appeared before on Think Defence but this is an amalgamation of some of the older posts, updated with new material.
To understand how the UK has got to the point of ordering a 34 tonne vehicle to replace an 11 tonne vehicle one first has to look back several years into what is without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most convoluted, confused and wasteful equipment procurement debacles of modern times.
1960′s and 1970′s
The Armoured Vehicle Reconnaissance project is started in 1960 to replace the Saladin. A couple of designs were proposed by the Fighting Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE), one tracked and another wheeled. The latter wheeled variant was to be available in turreted and turretless variants mounting either a 76mm gun, 105mm gun or anti tank missiles.
Unusually, the wheeled variant was designed to use skid steering.
Although not proposed as the AVR, a 20 tonne test vehicle called the TV1000 introduced a number of concepts that were to appear in the final design. The TV1000 was powered by a Rover Meteorite V8 petrol engine rated at 535 bhp. The skid steering system caused many problems, tire wear and poor stability at speed and poor turning performance on soft ground, the vehicle never progressed beyond being a test bed.
Some time later the TV1000′s wheels were replaced with a Bonmartini track system for testing.
Because of the weight issue, beyond the air transport limits of the time, the AVR project was cancelled and a new set of requirements issued that crucially did not specify wheels or tracks. The emerging concepts went on to become CVR(T) and CVR(W) or Scorpion and Fox in the earliest versions. Proposals set out a range of vehicles including one that mounted a semi automatic 120mm recoilless gun, maybe the origin of the famous ‘belt fed WOMBAT’
These concept of a series of lightweight tracked vehicles were developed using the TV 15000 vehicle, aluminium armour, lightweight track and the front mounted engine were to later be incorporated into CVR(T)
In parallel the UK joined the USA, Canada and Australia in a joint design study that subsequently collapsed because of weight issues. FVRDE were authorised to produce two mobile test rigs using the CVR(T) design. The transmission was a scaled down variant of the Self Changing Gears Ltd Merritt Wilson TN12 as used in the Chieftain, so far ahead of its time that the designer reportedly had a nervous breakdown trying to figure out how he did it!
In 1967 Alvis were awarded a contract to produce 30 CVR(T) prototypes based on the FVRDE design
The CVR(T) design was to face significant challenges.
First was the use of aluminium armour to save weight. Although the US M113 used aluminium armour it was the heavier and much easier to weld 5083 aluminium manganese magnesium type, CVR(T) needed to save every ounce of weight so the very latest and difficult to weld 7039 aluminium zinc magnesium alloy was chosen instead. Air portability was a key requirement, the thinking at the time was during the withdrawal from empire a rapidly deployed vehicle was essential. This was demonstrated in 1970 when a Scorpion prototype was lifted by a USMC S-65 helicopter.
A maximum width of 2,1m was specified so that CVR(T) could move between rubber trees in plantations in Malaya and negotiate narrow tracks, this is the same width as the US HUMVEE by the way. Steering geometry and track width to length ratios determined hull width and in order to squeeze the driver in when wearing winter combat gear the resultant narrow engine compartment width meant engine choice was limited, the Jaguar XK was the only suitable off the shelf engine that would both fit and provide sufficient power although integrating the M113 diesel engine was also trialled.
Many other novel design features were implemented to keep weight and noise down.
The Scorpion prototype was accepted1970, with an order awarded to Alvis in May and entering service with the Blues and Royals in 1972.
In August 1974, Scorpions from A Squadron 16th/5th The Queen’s Royal Lancers, were transported by C-130 Hercules to Cyprus, to protect the British Sovereign Base Areas during the Turkish invasion showing off its deployability credentials.
Scimitar was a variant that used the 30mm RARDEN cannon firing high velocity APDS rounds designed to defeat the Russian BMP’s. Other variants include recovery (SAMPSON), anti tank missile (SWINGFIRE), ambulance (SAMARITAN), command (SULTAN) and armoured personnel carrier (SPARTAN).
Whilst the first vehicles were coming into service, the soldiers using them might have driven a Morris Marina or listened to ‘All the Young Dudes‘ by Mott the Hoople.
The CVR(T)’s light weight, exceptional mobility and ease of deployment meant they were deployed to the Falklands in 1982 with B Squadron the Blues and Royals, both Scorpion and Scimitar provide infantry fire support and a solitary Sampson provided recovery capabilities. The CVR(T) was well suited to the boggy terrain of the Falklands because of its very low ground pressure, less than a booted squaddy. A Scimitar was damaged by a mine but was recovered by the sole Chinook in theatre, repaired by the attached REME section and returned to service in short order.
Moreover, there are some pieces of equipment that provide you with that flexibility, such as a medium mortar of the 81mm size, light artillery of good range and mobility, and light armour. It is significant I think that seventy-three of the seventy-four deployments have involved light armour at some stage in the campaign. Initially, light armor is used in the reconnaissance role for the protection and development of the lodgement area, beach head or air head, and also in subsequent operations, of course, not forgetting the pacification phase of an operation or stabilization or whatever you like to call it, when, again, (particularly) wheeled or light tracked armoured vehicles have been extremely useful. So there’s flexibility derived from both these characteristics of light forces, without which you know one could be really pushed about.
Colonel Neville Pughe, Parachute Regiment
I quite agree, and it is significant that the two most important areas of concern of the several areas that have been singled out for more work in terms of the characteristics of 3 Commando Brigade, as a result of our experiences in the Falklands (and we had the whole brigade down there) were the absence of any light armour in the 3 Commando Brigade and also the absence of air defence. There was light armour down there as you know, but it didn’t belong to us. We are now looking for both of those things to enhance the capabilities of 3 Commando Brigade, without making us into a heavy brigade which loses all of its light infantry advantages.
Colonel Andrew Whitehead of 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines
Some more background on CVR(T) in the Falklands can be read here including…
The Blues and Royals went ashore at San Carlos without incident and were quickly incorporated into the defence, protecting the build up phase of the operation. During this phase, the CVRs were used for hauling supplies and for air defence using their coaxially mounted 7.62-mm machine guns. One Scimitar claimed credit for downing an A4 Skyhawk at a 1,000m with its 30-mm gun. After the build up phase, the CVRs moved south to assist with the landings at Fitzroy and Bluff Cove. The CVRs accompanied 3 Para and 45 Commando (both are light infantry regiments) on their 50 mile march, ending up the only vehicles capable of making the cross country journey.
The sensation of driving across the water logged surface was described as similar to driving on a water bed. At Bluff Cove the CVRs were again pressed into air defence service. Civilians observing the air attacks on the Sir Galahad and Sir Tristan at Bluffs Cove claim to have seen one of the CVRs hit its target. In spite of losses, the British forces continued their move toward Port Stanley.
Battles fought across the high ground above Port Stanley were planned to take place at night and involved close direct and indirect fire support. The first phase-attack was opened by 3 Para with their assault on Mount Longdon. Initial surprise was achieved in the darkness, but the enemy were soon alert and resisted fiercely with heavy accurate fire. 4 Troop provided valuable direct fire support with their 76mm, firing HESH. The battle for the eastern sector of Mount Longdon was to last 6 hours and, for the western half, 4 hours. The enemy positions were captured by a process of calling for very close fire support, at times within 50 meters of the leading British troops.
Two techniques used by the British employing the CVRs proved very successful. The first involved a diversionary attack on the night of 12 June. In the attack, the Scots Guards employed 4 Troop in a reconnaissance role and then a direct fire role insupport of the diversionary assault. The impact of the use of the CVRs was instrumental deceiving the enemy.
The Argentine commander later admitted that “…he had been entirely deceived by the diversionary attack into thinking it was the main attack on his position”
The other technique employed by the CVRs is known as “zapping”: …the CVR crew would engage the Argentine position with a brief burst of machine gun fire provoking a response, which was promptly silenced by the main gun. The 30mm RARDEN cannon, with its high velocity and great accuracy, was much favoured for this technique.
Few Argentines felt able to reply after being zapped.
Armour, played key roles during the Falklands War performing reconnaissance, security, and support of dismounted manoeuvre missions. The presence of the CVRs during the initial build up phase provided a degree of security otherwise not available had an attack been launched by the Argentineans, particularly if they had used their 90-mm gun equipped Panhards (wheeled armoured vehicles). Once again, armoured vehicles surprised their supporters and silenced the critics with their great mobility in terrain considered unacceptable. When employed in support of infantry, the CVRs provided critical direct fire, especially with their passive sights during the hours of darkness. Additional roles of air defence and aiding the logistics only enhanced the primary fire support role provided by the CVRs.
The two troops deployed provided fire support for the 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment during the Battle of Wireless Ridge and for 2nd Battalion Scots Guards during the Battle of Mount Tumbledown
Production of the Stormer vehicle started in 1982, a larger variant of CVR(T). It was selected in 1986 to carry the Starstreak anti aircraft missile and Shielder minelaying system.
The CV90 project started its development phase in 1985, a joint venture between Hagglunds and Bofors called HB Utvecking AB obtained the order and Hagglunds created the first 5 prototypes in 1988.
Production of the Warrior began in 1986 and by the end of that year the UK had taken delivery of 1,863 CVR(T), 313 Scorpions, 89 Strikers, 691 Spartans, 50 Samaritans, 291 Sultans, 95 Samsons and 334 Scimitars.
In 1988, according to Janes, the MoD briefed a number of companies and the following year 15 British companies entered into a collaborative deal with Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment to develop an integrated fighting vehicle electronics system for demonstration purposes. Known as VERDI (Vehicle Electronics Research Defence Initiative), this resulted in the showing at BAEE (exhibition) of a Warrior tracked vehicle configured for the reconnaissance role equipped with two VERDI consoles (or big tellies as more commonly known).
Even at this stage we had recognised the potential of electronic systems and the Warrior in the reconnaissance role.
Also in 1988, an upgrade contract was placed at a cost of approximately £50million that would see a new Cummins BTA diesel engine and other improvements fitted under the Life Extension Programme over the following few years.
In 1989 the Future Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FFLAV) study identified a number of roles that would eventually inform the CVR(T) replacement and identified 13 roles and fifty sub roles with a weight range of between 3.5 and 24 tonnes.
FFLAV marks the start point for CVR(T) replacement, remember the year, 1989, by which time CVR(T) had been in service about 18 years, although there was work going on before the study was officially revealed and VERDI happened on or around the same time.
FFLAV was a fully coherent and sensible look at the future and its requirements, of course, with something as sensible it was doomed to failure.
There were three phases to the FFLAV
- Phase 1, carried out by the MoD Design Authority contractors, covered a study of the current fleet to ascertain how closely current vehicles meet, or can be upgraded to meet the FFLAV requirement
- Phase 2 covered the proposals from industry
- Phase 3 was the assessment and analysis of all vehicles and proposals from Phases 1 and 2
FFLAV settled on three families, heavy, based on a tank chassis, medium weight vehicles and lightweight reconnaissance in addition to something called the Multi Base Armoured Vehicle (MBAV).
The CVR(T) saw action in Operation Granby, the liberation of Kuwait, after a series of urgent upgrades were implemented.
In 1992, the ASCOD prototype began trials
Also in 1992 VERDI had completed all its milestones and shown considerable promise.
In 1993, production of the CV90 started at Hagglunds in Sweden as the CVR(T) began a long engagement in the Balkans.
In 1995, all Scorpions were withdrawn from service.
In response to the FFLAV study, Mowag of Switzerland and GKN teamed up to create the GKN Piranha, Hagglunds proposed their CV90 and others such as Alvis with a CVR(T) derivative, Panhard with their VBL and the Krauss-Maffei with the Puma, all pitched in as well.
After disappearing without trace the project reappeared in the ISTAR capability pillar, along with Watchkeeper and the new TRACER programme, or Tactical Reconnaissance Armoured Combat Equipment Requirement (back then they always came up with better acronyms as well)
Three UK industrial consortia participated in a joint MoD/Industry study that was initially due to report in 1994.
In the same period, the US Army started looking at a replacement for its Bradley M3 in Cavalry squadrons and the M1114 HMWWV in scout platoons in a programme called, the Future Scout Cavalry System (FSCS)
The TRACER and FSCS programmes were subsequently harmonised and a joint project created, national requirements would be met by a single vehicle; the Armoured Scout and Reconnaissance Vehicle (ASRV) which was specified in a Memorandum of Understanding, signed by both governments in July 1998, the original Operational Requirements Document having being agreed in December 1997.
By the end of 1998 the MoD has spent £7.3million on TRACER.
Contracts were signed for an initial study phase with two consortia in January 1999. At this early stage the UK and US had slightly different requirements but the project was still initiated amid hopes of a rapid introduction and reduction in costs.
TRACER was intended to not only to provide intelligence, but also to act as a deterrent, monitor opposing forces, help maintain freedom of movement and provide a credible offensive capability by directing direct and indirect fire onto enemy forces.
The two competing consortia were SIKA International (British Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Vickers Defence and General Dynamics) and LANCER (Marconi, Alvis, United Defence and Raytheon)
The studies progressed well and planned to go through affordability review in early 2001, after which a number of subsequent options would be open for discussion, including completion and report in 2002.
Estimated cost at this point was £118million at 1999 prices.
At about the same time the UK and other European nations started the process of creating the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation, as is usual with these things it wasn’t called OJAC but the French translation, Organisation conjointe de coopération en matière d’armement or OCCAR, go figure as they say.
Although created in 1996 it wasn’t legally constituted until January 2001 and one of its lead programmes was the Multi Role Armoured Vehicle or MRAV. This was a joint programme between the UK, Germany and France.
MRAV is our entry ticket to OCCAR because one cannot simply take part without bringing cash!
France left the programme in 1999 to create the VBCI.
To recap, FFLAV became TRACER (reconnaissance element) and MRAV (medium weight element) and had they been successful, would have replaced CVR(T), Saxon and FV432.
In February 2000, the estimated cost of the UK’s participation in TRACER was reduced to £90 million
Rumours surfaced that the US was about to terminate the programme and in the same month Mr Quentin Davies MP tabled a question about the consequences of the US withdrawing. Yes, that is the same Quentin Davies that crossed the House in 2007 and became Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence, responsible for Defence Equipment and Support, oh the irony!
In response to the question, the estimated cost had risen to £130million, up from £118million only a couple of years before and different to a parliamentary answer given only months before.
In April 2001, a statement to the House of Parliament revealed that the future of the US FSCS is in doubt, describing how the new Future Combat System (FCS) vision as envisioned by General Shinseki and others in 1999 will need funding and some previous programmes will be cut to make room for it, one of these is the follow on engineering development phase of FSCS/TRACER.
A number of small scale studies introduced the FRES concept.
At the DSEi show in London in September a SIKA representative stated
Rumours that the project had stalled completely and was about to be overtaken by FRES are grossly overdone, the project continues to meet its milestone development phases and we have already started cutting metal on the first prototype
In October 2001 an announcement was made in Parliament that in a joint US/UK decision, the TRACER programme was to a close in July 2002 at the end of the assessment phase with the information gained used to inform FCS and FRES respectively, both programmes were to effectively absorb TRACER and FSCS.
Total costs to the UK were confirmed at £131million
Thales were awarded the contract for the Battle Group Thermal Imaging (BGTI) programme which replaced the thermal imaging systems on Scimitar and Royal Engineer Spartans.
The selection process started for the Future Command and Liaison Vehicle, a competition that was to result in the BAe/IVECO Panther vehicle being selected. FCLV replaced a number of CVR(T) and other tracked and wheeled vehicles in British service.
The competition was very controversial because the shortlisted vehicles did not include the Panther (Iveco LMV) but consisted of the RG31, RG32M, Alvis Scarab and the French AMCAT. Panther was inserted after the short listing process had concluded, some say because of a desire for a common European design for the European Rapid Reaction Corps.
It is was reported that one of the acquisition members of staff at the MoD subsequently went to work for Iveco in a repeat of the familiar revolving doors scenario between industry and the MoD.
The Netherlands joined the MRAV programme.
The TRACER technology demonstrations took place towards the end of the programme in June and July 2002 which involved the prototype vehicles from each consortium.
They were widely regarded as impressive vehicles and included many advanced concepts such as a hybrid electrical drive that provided a limited silent running, band tracks from Soucy , a mast mounted elevating sensor head, unmanned turrets, open electronic architectures and the just off the drawing board 40mm Cased Telescopic Ammunition (CTA) cannon from CTAI (in the SIKA version), the very same weapon that will equip the Warrior CSP and FRES Scout.
They are only demonstrators of course and many of the technologies are nowhere near mature enough for deployment but they showed considerable promise and innovation.
Later in the year, BAe, at the request of the FRES IPT in the MoD, formed a relationship with Alvis, whereby Alvis were to contribute the AFV domain knowledge and skills and BAE Systems would manage the System Engineering for FRES.
A non-competitive contract was let to Alvis in September 2002 to determine plans for the Assessment Phase of a FRES programme with a target ISD of 2009.
The BAe contract was terminated in July 2003 by the DPA after the Procurement Strategy for a non competitive approach was not approved by the Investment Approvals Board, incredibly the contract was cancelled by the very same organisation that let it in the first place.
The UK ordered 401 Panther’s from Alvis Vickers, with final assembly (a new roof that is) in Newcastle. They were designated the Future Command and Liaison Vehicle or CLV when in service. , the winning vehicle was the Iveco LMV, to be called Panther. 401 were to be supplied, all armoured and 362 equipped with the Selex Galileo Enforcer overhead weapons station with 7.62mm GPMG. Panther was to be deployed in 15 role specific variants as a command vehicle for anti tank/mortar platoons, Royal Engineer recce/liaison, armoured/armoured infantry regiment liaison officer and radio rebroadcast. Users were to be Royal Armoured Corps, Infantry, Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and the RAF regiment. The programme was intended to replace the Ferret but as this has been out of service for some time these roles had been variously carried out by Land Rovers, Saxon, FV430 and CVR(T)
Even at the time it was difficult to see this as a logical or coherent acquisition given the status of FRES, the background of Iraq and as they entered service it emerged that the already very expensive capital cost (£193million) was to be inflated even more, by £20million, as the ones designated for service in Afghanistan (less than 70) needed extensive modification for theatre entry, with the remainder being retained for training roles and secondary roles.
The whole thing seemed rushed.
CVR(T) went into combat in Iraq, again. The initial force contained the 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guards and D Squadron, the Household Cavalry, both equipped with CVR(T
The UK withdrew from MRAV in 2003 to pursue FRES, citing the weight of MRAV, at around 31 tonnes, as far too heavy for the medium weight rapidly deployed FRES concept.
Lord Bach, the Defence Procurement Minister said
“The SDR (Strategic Defence Review) New Chapter, and our experience on recent overseas operations, have shown the need for lighter armored vehicles that can be quickly sent by air to a trouble spot when a crisis breaks”
During this period the US Future Combat System (FCS) and Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) was postulating that a lightweight but rapidly deployed force, with networked information superiority can afford to sacrifice armour weight and do the job of a 60 tonne tank in a package no heavier than 20 tonnes.
Germany and the Netherlands were left as sole partners in the MRAV programme.
The cost of the UK participation in MRAV was reported as £48million in 2003 money, from which we obtained zero benefit, although this will rise in subsequent reporting
The prototype Dutch command version was completed.
In August 2004, Atkins were confirmed as the chosen Systems House to lead the 2 year initial Assessment Phase (iAP) for FRES.
Atkins were also tasked to let the competitive Technology Demonstrator Programme contracts to industry as part of a FRES Integrated Technology Acquisition Plan (ITAP).
BAE Systems created a dedicated FRES team in September 2004 in response to the MoD’s burgeoning FRES vision.
This period is characterised by the world and his dog falling for military fashion as embodied by the medium weight dream, in which forces would be deployed by air, see the enemy before they left their mud huts (we tended to concentrate on African type enemies rather than the politically sensitive Arabic type), fix them with advanced sensors, arrive in a hail of air portable allyness, destroy the enemy (who would have obligingly decided to face us mano a mano) then build a few schools and be home in time for tea and medals.
Of course, Iraq and Afghanistan intervened in that PowerPoint fuelled fantasy.
In December 2004 a number of ITT’s were issued to industry for nine technology demonstrations including 2 chassis (SEP and AHED) concepts, gap crossing, stowage and capacity, hard kill defensive aids, 2 electronic architectures, electric armour and integrated survivability.
FRES was going to be one hell of a technology fest, kerching!
Meanwhile, back in the real world, UK forces in Iraq were still using Snatch Land Rovers but nothing is allowed to stop the FRES juggernaut.
The demonstration phases were won by BAe, Insys, General Dynamics, Akers Krutbrug, Lockeehd Marin, DSTL (i.e. the MoD) and Thales, jam for all.
In all fairness, some good work was done, still no CVR(T) replacement though.
The initial FRES requirement called for a vehicle to fit within the C130 load profile, i.e. around 17-18 tonnes, much less than the MRAV which at over 30 tonnes was deemed far too heavy.
OCCAR placed a contract with ARTEC for the continuing development of MRAV.
The Defence Industrial Strategy was published in December 2005 and included this, in Chapter 3
“The most likely solution (for FRES) will be a team in which national and international companies co-operate to deliver the FRES platforms, including the required sub-systems, led by a systems integrator with the highest level of systems engineering, skills, resources and capabilities based in the UK.”
“We expect to see a significant evolution of BAE Systems Land Systems both to deliver AFV availability and upgrades through life, and to bring advanced land systems’ technologies, skills and processes into the UK. If successful in their evolution, BAE Systems will be well placed for the forthcoming FRES programme”
The MoD indicated that FRES would likely to be for approximately 3,500 vehicles at an estimated total cost of £14 billion.
BAe was awarded an £84 million contract to upgrade approximately 500 FV430 vehicles to the Bulldog standard, for use in Iraq, a singularly good value for money deal that provided a genuine uplift in capability and showed what can be achieved if one takes a sensible attitude to platform upgrades.
Although BAe are often maligned they made considerable investment in FRES and the activities needed to fulfil on the DIS, including a Platform Development Centre at Newcastle and a Systems Integration Laboratory in Leicester.
The initial phases concluded in 2006 but before then it became clear that the MoD favoured an 8×8 wheeled vehicle to fulfil the first tranche of FRES, not as one might think the Scout, but the Utility variant. Unfortunately BAe did not really have anything in its portfolio to fulfil this requirement except the Swedish SEP programme (since cancelled) being worked on by BAe owned Hagglunds.
The Spitterskyddad Enhets Platform (SEP) vehicle was an advanced concept that used a modular chassis available either in a wheeled or tracked variant with hybrid propulsion. BAe invested their own funds, again, to spin out of the SEP programme a conventionally powered 8×8 demonstrator for FRES.
At the end of 2006, the MoD announced that the acquisition strategy for FRES would take a three tier approach, with a Systems of Systems Integrator, Platform Designer, and a Vehicle Integrator/Manufacturer.
Whatever possessed the MoD to entertain this fundamentally flawed, complex and impossible to manage approach was not quite clear but I bet some consultants somewhere are still enjoying their villas in Tuscany off the back of it.
In evidence to the Defence Select Committee in December 2006, Sir Peter Spencer (Head of Defence Procurement) defended TRACER and MRAV against accusations of being abandoned with nothing to show for it.
Sir Peter Spencer: Neither was abandoned halfway through. Both were abandoned because the end user decided, in the case of the Americans TRACER was not what they wanted and we were left stranded, and in the case of Boxer the British Army decided that against the evolving threat this was going in the wrong direction and was not the right vehicle for the medium weight force, so from a procurement point of view we responded to that and we exited from that programme and then we ramped up the work on FRES.
So we were abandoned by the US, great.
It is accepted wisdom that TRACER was cancelled because the US pulled out but this is not the case, the bidding consortia were required to produce a vehicle design that could be supplied, regardless of quantity, for less than $3 million each.
The Dutch and Germans approved a production order for 472 vehicles between, for the Boxer (MRAV) at a rough cost of £2.25 million each (a number of variants and including all the support/training costs that mask the actual vehicle cost)
In response to the select committee’s report, the MoD, in February 2007, stated that the UK cost of TRACER and MRAV was £188million and at this stage, specific pull through into FRES had been limited. Of course ‘has been limited’ in MoD speak means more or less nothing, except some nice drawings and the confirmation that heavier vehicles with more armour are generally more survivable.
The immortal phrase, ‘lessons have been learned’ makes a grand entry in the MoD’s response to Point 5 in the committee report.
Around this period the MoD finally realised what everyone in the programme knew from day 1, that the weight limit imposed by insisting on C130 transportability was too low for a vehicle to be survivable in an 8×8 conventionally designed armoured vehicle form. The weight range was raised from 17 tonnes to between 27 and 30 tonnes, for the Utility Variant.
This was still within A400 weight limits so although it might not have been as rapid to deploy as if it were in the more numerous C130 (at the time) at least it would still be air portable. The R is FRES stands for Rapid, deployability that is, not time from concept to reality.
The response concluded that
Transportability by A400M is recognised as a risk to the programme but is being carefully managed with appropriate mitigation strategies.
An appropriate risk mitigation strategy; that’s a good one, must remember that for later.
As Iraq and Afghanistan have shown, the reality is that the dream of networked sensors providing enough protection is nothing short of fantasy against an enemy who might be simple but is smart enough to realise the way to fight this concept is not by entering into an unwinnable technology race, but to deploy simple countermeasures and rather unsportingly, fail to play by our rules.
The IED is proved to be a game changer that despite all efforts by the defence establishment, was not realised until much time, effort and money has been wasted on the medium weight sacred cow, FCS or FRES, depending on where you live.
Continuing with the response, the MoD at this point underwent a sea change.
We agree we should not pursue unrealistic levels of capability for FRES. We are seeking a pragmatic solution that delivers, at the earliest opportunity, the capability that the Army needs with the potential for further improvements through life.
The question of the relative priority of force protection in theatre and air deployability has been resolved. Whilst both are important, protection in theatre is a higher priority than air deployability by A400M/C17.
Our intention remains to pursue the delivery of the FRES UV at the earliest possible time while providing significantly improved capability and sustained operational effectiveness through life in comparison with relevant vehicles in the current fleet (eg the FV 430 Series and SPARTAN).
It is interesting to note that the priority was the introduction of the Utility Variant to replace the Saxon, FV430 series, which were even older than CVR(T) and Spartan. Is this because the Panther (as it is now called) had been introduced and US forces have introduced the Stryker, we wouldn’t want to be seen falling behind our cousins.
In the same response to the Select Committee the MoD made it clear that it will take a consistent line on intellectual property and design authority.
Absolute clarity on the ownership of Intellectual Property Rights and technology transfer issues will be essential in ensuring we can upgrade FRES vehicles throughout their life, thereby securing operational sovereignty. Agreement that all intellectual property and design authorities should reside in the UK is a pre-requisite for companies participating in FRES competitions.
The so called ‘Trials of Truth’ for the Utility Variant were planned to take place in the summer of 2007, and were to involve the General Dynamics Piranha, Nexter VBCI and ARTEC Boxer, yes, the same Boxer we rejected a few years earlier.
It was rumoured that the head of DE&S, Lord Drayson, wanted the VBCI because it will be quickest into service, getting kit to ‘our brave boys’ in the light of the continuing Snatch controversy was an obvious political influence. The slowest into service would be the General Dynamics Piranha Evolution, the favoured military option because it had a very good steering system, all other things being equal. Of course Pirahna V Evolution was not actually in the Trials of Truth because it existed only on paper, so we had to make do with a previous version.
After a series of reported ‘blazing rows’ Lord Drayson resigned.
The MoD seemed to be overly concerned with upgradeability, noting that all platforms were required to accommodate increases in armour, sensors and weapons over their lifetime. This was the principal factor in rejecting off the shelf solutions because they did not offer this growth potential.
With Lord Drayson out of the way the MoD announced General Dynamics were the preferred bidder i.e. winner.
Despite the statement in the MoD’s response to the Defence Select Committee the deal and whole Utility Variant programme collapsed in a hail of acrimony after it emerged that the MoD and General Dynamics cannot come to agreement on intellectual property issues.
One might think it would be reasonable to get these things sorted before announcing a winner but this is the MoD we are talking about. The MoD quite rightly came in for serious criticism on this issue, how the competition could have proceeded without this being absolutely crystal clear is nothing short if incredible, and not in a good way, perhaps it was a deliberate attempt to kill the process because we were not in a position to place orders?
Despite agreement on IP being a pre requisite, GD were still allowed to compete.
One has to wonder if they were allowed to compete because the prospect of having a competition that involved a French and Dutch/German company was politically unacceptable, especially given that the UK had wasted £31 million on MRAV after we rejected it because it was unsuitable and here it was, possibly the best choice in the Trials of Truth.
The alternative would have been a French vehicle that also came out of the MRAV programme.
The escalating conflict in Afghanistan needed considerable resources at DE&S to manage the introduction of a wide range of UOR vehicles and equipment, in response to various needs, the most pressing being the threat of IED’s and in the meantime the Mastiff and Bulldog had been introduced for service in Iraq to great effect, both platforms showing considerable utility.
Things go quite on the FRES front.
BAe were awarded a £28 million contract for support services on the Panther vehicle, to provide better availability and lower costs. The Panther is reported to be a maintenance intensive vehicle with very poor availability.
CVR(T) received a £19million upgrade package for 100 vehicles to incorporate a number engine and armour enhancements so they can better cope with the demands of Afghanistan. Additional upgrades include ECM equipment and an AEI Odin one man turret for the Spartan
After the debacle over the Utility Variant the next in line for the MoD is the the FRES Specialist Variant which comprised three blocks of reconnaissance vehicles, Medium Armour and Manoeuvre Support. Up to 1300 were still being reported as the total requirement.
Recce Block 1, which consists of Scout, Repair, Recovery and Protected Mobility variants, is the largest and seen as the highest priority.
It was announced that the two contenders to for Recce Block 1 were CV90 and ASCOD2 from BAe and General Dynamics respectively, both variants of off the shelf vehicles.
Both were to involve elements of offshore manufacture and UK based integration work and each bidder of course made various claims about jobs and the industrial benefits of their respective bid.
In other news, Mott the Hoople reunited for two concerts in London, have the years been as kind to CVR(T)
A leak in the Financial Times reported that the GD ASCOD2 was likely to be the winner,
The BAe option was a shortened CV90, fully developed and available in the flesh, although to what extent readiness extended under the skin was not clear. The basic vehicle was to be constructed at Hagglunds in Sweden and shipped to Newcastle for final assembly and integration. It would feature a stabilised main weapon and a number of advanced sensors. The CV90 has been sold to six countries and is currently in service in Afghanistan.
The General Dynamics offer was based on the Austrian-Spanish Cooperative Development or ASCOD vehicle which is in service with Spain and Austria, as the Pizarro and Ulan respectively.
After a small period of speculation General Dynamics were declared the winner with a contract awarded for the demonstration phase
The demonstration phase is for 7 prototypes and a total value of £500 million.
Yes, that £500 million for 7 prototypes, it’s not a spelling mistake.
Inflation eh, the last time we tried to replace CVR(T) with something new, the TRACER programme less than a decade ago, it only cost £131 million and that was for a similar development phase but with two manufacturing consortia and two separate designs.
Commenting on the award, Peter Luff MP, Minister for Defence Equipment and Support said
Military commanders have stressed the importance of having a wide range of vehicles from which they can select the most appropriate for specific tasks.
“This contract is a major step towards providing an additional fleet of combat vehicles, capable of undertaking operations in the most demanding terrain and fully incorporating lessons from current conflicts.
Work on this phase of the programme will go ahead alongside the wider Strategic Defence and Security Review which will make sure that the capabilities that we are investing in are those best placed to provide the security we need for the future.”
The Chief of Defence Materiel, General Sir Kevin O’Donoghue, said:
“Today’s announcement is the result of months of hard work by a wide range of stakeholders across MOD and General Dynamics UK enabling us to reach this point, ahead of the original plan.
The work that has been done has been, and continues to be, subject to the most careful scrutiny to ensure the decision is the right one for the long-term needs of the Army.”
Master-General of the Ordnance, Major General Bill Moore, said:
“This is a very good moment for the Army. Scout will provide a much better capability to find and track the enemy, so necessary for the successful prosecution of operations in the 21st century.
Scout will also deliver improved situational awareness, increased firepower, more protection and enhanced mobility, and it will be a key capability for land operations over the next few decades.”
The project trials will start in 2013.
Arguably one of the real innovations in the design is the Core Infrastructure and Distribution System (CIDS), this is an electronic ring main that sensors, monitoring equipment, displays, controls, power connectors and other systems can plug into. Another innovation is an open electronic architecture that surrounds CIDS. This combination is a real innovation that would be difficult to retrofit into an existing vehicle.
One could be uncharitable and say this might have been driven by the torrid time GD UK had with upgrading the vehicle fleet for BOWMAN!
It was rumoured that the Army preferred the BAe option and the Treasury the GD option but rumours being rumours, who knows?
Anyway, here are some pictures to be going on with because whilst based on the established ASCOD, FRES Scout is still a paper design.
The end result will be nowhere near as innovative as even the TRACER concepts of nearly a decade ago
In April Janes reported that CVR(T) production would be restarted
Negotiations are under way between the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and BAE Systems to restart production of hulls for the British Army’s CVR(T)
A small number of CVR(T) were subsequently reported to be in production to mitigate fatigue problems and reducing hull numbers. Pictures emerged on a number of web forums showing what appears to be a Scimitar turret placed on a Spartan hull, perhaps to address space issues as much as anything else.
In May, the National Audit Office publish a stinging critique of the MoD’s approach called the Cost Effective Delivery of an Armoured Vehicle Capability, clearly the NAO have a sense of humour.
This describes FRES SV as having an in service date of 2017, comprising 1,300 vehicles with an estimated cost of £7.6 billion
It is difficult to estimate the costs FRES to this point because the published figures only show a small proportion of the true costs.
TRACER, published figure, £131 million
MRAV, published figure, £57 million
FRES UV, £133 million
These are easy to tot up, £321 million in non inflation adjusted terms.
But on top of that are a basket of additional costs, upgrading CVR(T), buying FCLV, various UOR’s, additional Vikings, Broncos and other vehicles.
Plus of course, the eye watering £500m for the Specialist Vehicle demonstration phase.
Just under a billion pounds with precisely ZERO fielded vehicles
This is a conservative figure based on carefully defined published figures, the real cost will be much more, how much more, who knows but would anyone take a bet on it being less than double that?
If you look at the NAO report mentioned above, on page 27 and page 28 it provides a very handy timeline spending comparison for upgrades and UOR’s to core and existing vehicles. The total spend on vehicles for Iraq and Afghanistan has been £2.8 billion and whilst only the most optimistic would conclude that all of these could have been avoided if only we had done things better I think it would be fair to assume that the figure would have been dramatically reduced.
The UK has made several ham fisted and very expensive attempts at replacing CVR(T) yet it is still in service, fighting in Afghanistan.
These programmes have been hampered by combinations of inappropriate acquisition strategies, hopelessly clinging to military fashion, inability to rapidly change, planning far too far in advance, changing too often, suffering at the hands of our allies, indecision and confusion.
Meanwhile, users of CVR(T) will have to wait even longer to see a replacement, 2017 as at the latest information, thus pipping the post at over 45 years hard service.
This also assumes FRES survives the latest round of cost cutting, which is not a certainty by any stretch.
A driver of the original CVR(T) might have joined the army, progressed to Warrant Officer, retired at the 22 year point, been replaced with another Trooper that has also since gone on to serve his 22, and commissioned as a Late Entrant officer, who may well retire before any meaningful replacement is actually in service.
World War II was 6 years long during which time we progressed from biplanes to jet fighters, it’s a good job there isn’t a war on, oh, wait a minute.
We have been forced to settle for a relatively conservative design that will rapidly show its age and have limited export potential, how different things must have looked to the TRACER designers.
At the end of the trials phase the UK will have engaged in the FFLAV, TRACER and FRES programmes, spent in excess of one billion pounds on these and past/future upgrades to CVR(T) and still not have a single production replacement for a vehicle which will by then be over 43 years old and still in service.
This must rank as the single most inept procurement programme of all time.
The most embarrassing thing of all though is that despite all this, the replacement for CVR(T), at least until FRES actually gets into service, is a new build CVR(T)
Now that is irony, or maybe aluminiumy!
Perhaps we shouldn’t be as grumpy, it’s progress after all and the turret demonstrator has completed its phase on time.